Catholic Exchange: Preparing Our Hearts and Minds for Advent

This Sunday the Church begins her new liturgical year with the season of Advent. In the hustle and bustle of the secular Christmas season, it is an often-overlooked season. It is a time when the Church calls us as our Mother to enter into the silence and hope of waiting. Many of us live in cultures of instant gratification, so Advent is rich in spiritual truths. Christmas trees, elves, lights, and holiday decorations seem to show up in stores earlier and earlier. The day after Halloween gave way to Christmas. Here in the U.S., the cultural preparations for Christmas in previous years typically start the day after Thanksgiving, but now Thanksgiving seems to be absorbed into the frenzy of Christmas. It can be difficult during this busy time of year to enter into Advent, but a well observed Advent will deepen our joy at Christmas.

Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Homily at First Vespers of Advent, November 28, 2009

The season of Advent coincides with the darkest and busiest time of year. This is appropriate as it reminds us of the world after the Fall, which groaned in anticipation of the coming Savior. We are blessed to live in the world in light of the Paschal Mystery, but the Church calls us to meditate upon the centuries of waiting for the coming of the Savior. The darkness of this time of year reminds us of the darkness of sin and death. The People of God waited centuries to be redeemed and for the renewal of the world, often they fell into sin and temptation, further demonstrating the need for salvation.

We too are waiting. We are waiting for the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. As we wait we run the risk of giving into false idols and worldly goods even after our Baptism. The very same temptations that faced God’s People throughout salvation history are temptations we battle through our Fallen nature. The Paschal Mystery has renewed the earth and we are now propelling forward towards the end of time and the new Heaven and new earth, but for now we must battle sin and constantly turn to God for assistance. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also in waiting in alertness for the Second Coming of Our Lord. Advent is a time to look at ourselves and ask if we are truly prepared in heart and mind for the Incarnation. If Christ came again in glory today, would I be ready? Am I a saint?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Synod, Archbishop Chaput, and Despair

I just read Archbishop Chaput’s intervention at the Synod over at Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register and I believe it touched on a major issue in the Church right now. It is not just one in relation to marriage and the family, but also a lack of hope in the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide her. Here is the text of the intervention:

Marriage as a Witness to Hope

“Brothers,

The Instrumentum seemed to present us with two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope. When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible.

In mastering nature for the purpose of human development, we human beings have wounded our oceans and the air we breathe. We’ve poisoned the human body with contraceptives. And we’ve scrambled the understanding of our own sexuality. In the name of individual fulfillment, we’ve busied ourselves with creating a new Babel of tyranny that feeds our desires but starves the soul.

Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.

The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.

George Bernanos said that the virtue of hope is “despair, overcome.” We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families.

They were there because they love the Pope, but also because they believe in marriage. They believe in the family. And they were hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.

This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

There is a great amount of despair that is coming out of certain corners of the Church. For instance, the German Church demonstrates a profound sense of despair and loss of faith in its desire to conform to the world rather than the Blessed Trinity. Many in that Bishop’s Conference, not all, have forgotten that our baptismal call is to be conformed to Christ throughout our lives. That means entering into the Paschal Mystery and dying to self, dying to our desires, and inclinations, most especially those which are disordered and sinful. The reason for this is not because God is a cold-hearted authoritarian who desires to rule over us as a tyrant. No, what these men and many throughout the Church who have chosen this world rather than the next, is that God wants us to be fully human. He created us, so He knows what will make us fully alive and fully human. This occurs through an abandonment of sin, which is a difficult and life-long process only made possible through grace.

This despair leaves Jesus in the tomb. It is to scatter because Our Lord has been crucified. Many have forgotten that Jesus has in fact Risen, that He reigns in Heaven, and that the Holy Spirit is who guides the truth and the Church. We cannot give into despair because the culture is against us. The culture has always been against us. Jesus came to give the world a counter-cultural message, a message that goes against the depravity of sin, and the truth that relies on grace. He promised us that we would be persecuted. The question comes down to this: Are we a Resurrection people or not?

A good deal of the ranting and raving at the Synod and on social media comes from those who have lost hope. They see a Church of sinners, a hierarchy of sinners, and a seductive world. Many have cornered themselves into one of two camps: the Church is going to fall apart or we must become like the world. We forget that the answer is neither. It is that we must proclaim the Good News. We must share the joy of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. That with grace all things are possible. We can overcome our sinful inclinations, even sexual ones, by the power of God. It is not by our own power, but Christ’s that will guide us and help us to persevere in the long arduous journey.

Do we truly believe in the power of the Paschal Mystery? Do we believe that God has and will redeem us? Do we believe that Jesus is who he said he is? If the answer is no, then yes, it is right to despair. That means there is no redemption and that human depravity will continue to spiral to deeper and deeper depths. If the answer is yes, then we must stop living in defeat. The world senses our despair and the vultures are circling overhead. Either we believe that Christ will protect the Church from error, or we don’t believe in Him. Either we believe that redemption is possible or we don’t. Conforming the Church to the world is to live without redemption. It is to believe that human beings are incapable of greatness, holiness, and saintliness. If we are redeemed, then we must share that redemption with others. We must be honest about the difficult task. We must be honest that human beings cannot do it on their. This is only possible through Christ.

Many people focus on the sins of the hierarchy. They obsess about a “Gay Mafia” or other agendas within the Magisterium. There have been competing agendas since the beginning of the Church. Today is not unique. Most of us are not in a position to do anything about it except pray. Gossiping and ranting in social media is not a proper response to such concern. Gossip is a sin for a reason. If there are concerns then write to the proper channels, pray, and trust in Christ’s promises. The sins of the hierarchy, the very same sins many of us in the laity struggle with, do not change the Church in her ontological reality. She is the Bride of Christ and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that our sins don’t damage the Mystical Body, but it does not change the Church, nor does it change God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written:“That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”
But if our wickedness provides proof of God’s righteousness, what can we say? Is God unjust, humanly speaking, to inflict his wrath? Of course not! For how else is God to judge the world? But if God’s truth redounds to his glory through my falsehood, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.

Romans 3:3-8

It is time to stop focusing so much on this world and the sins of our neighbor. It is time for us to live as people in hope and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery. It is through our lives and our striving to live in holiness that people will come to know the truth. It is impossible for us to engage the world if all we do is either project doom and gloom out over social media and in our daily lives, or if we say the Church is “out-dated” and must conform to this age. Neither are truth. Both are a form of despair. Instead, we must do as St. Paul did and proclaim: Christ has risen! Pax Christi.

Liturgical Living Made Simple: Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. My husband and I love the Rosary, but I must confess, we are still implementing a family Rosary at night with our 4 year old daughter. It’s a struggle for her to sit still for five minutes, let alone 20-25 minutes. We have gone through periods of praying it each day and periods where we haven’t. It is a definite goal for our family to pray the Rosary daily. It is a beautiful prayer and meditation on the life of Christ through Mary.  I am a huge proponent of the Rosary.

I kept our liturgical celebration simple. I decorated our table with a statue I have of Jesus and another of Our Lady. I don’t have any depictions of Our Lady of the Rosary at this point. I then pulled out a couple of our Rosaries and put them out along with flowers; blue in honor of Our Mother. I explained the feast to my 4 year old while we ate dinner. I made an Israeli Spiced Chicken. I got the idea from this recipe. I didn’t actually grill the chicken. I roasted organic boneless chicken thighs, but I used the marinade in the recipe. It was so delicious! I also made a pearl cous cous salad with tomatoes, bell pepper, and parsley with lemon and olive oil. I sprinkled goat cheese on top, which added a rich creaminess. I didn’t make a dessert. We are trying to eat healthier, so I save desserts for our really big feast days. Pinterest is a great place to find recipes from around the world to use for various feast days. Next week is the feast of St. John Paul II, so I will be searching for Polish recipes. When my husband gets home tonight we will pray the Rosary as a family. It is a quiet, beautiful, and simple celebration of the gift of the Rosary and Our Heavenly Mother.

I am new to liturgical living, so I like to keep it simple, but allow it to guide the rhythms of our family. There is no reason for us to make liturgical living complicated. We can live the calendar of the Church without feeling like we need to be able to provide a huge celebration for each day. Pick a few a month that are special for your family and decide how you want to celebrate that saint or feast day. I like making an ethnic meal, occasionally making a fun dessert, doing a craft if I can find one or have the time, and decorating our kitchen table with flowers and whatever items I have around. You can also print out pictures for each feast day. Find what works for you and your family. No matter what it is a tremendous blessing to live with the rhythms of the Church. Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary! Mother Mary, ora pro nobis.

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Catholic Exchange: St. John Paul II on the Power of the Rosary

The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn.”

So begins St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which was promulgated on October 16, 2002, just a couple of years before his death. October is the month the Church devotes to the Holy Rosary and the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary falls on October 7th. It is a prayer and devotion that has changed the lives of many. It is to walk the life of Christ through the eyes of His Mother. Our eyes are ever fixed on Our Savior, but under the loving guidance of the Mother He gave us on the Cross. St. John Paul II referred to devotion to the Rosary as a “genuine training in holiness” that guided Christians in the contemplation of the great mysteries of our Faith.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: On the Conversion of St. Peter

Today is the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Two men who shaped the Early Church and whose contribution to the Faith can still be seen and felt 2000 years later. One was the first Pope and the other proclaimed the Good News to the Gentiles, after St. Peter helped move the Church from just the Jews, to the whole world. Due to the fact that both of these men loom so large in the Church, I have chosen to meditate on the conversion of Saint Peter. Saint Paul would require an entire article of his own, in fact both men have books upon books written about them.

St. Peter

In the Gospel of Matthew we see that Simon, who is now called Peter, was among the first disciples to be called to follow Jesus.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them.
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus did not go to the Temple in Jerusalem for his disciples at first. He did not seek out the learned and the powerful first. No, he went to the Sea of Galilee and summoned two fisherman to be his first disciples. When Peter abandoned his nets to follow Christ, he had no idea of the place he would play in the mission of bring the world to Christ. Notice, however, that Peter’s decision to follow Christ was immediate. He left his very livelihood and went down a path he did not fully understand at the time.

Peter’s conversion was a slow going process. He stayed with Jesus and followed Him as He proclaimed the Good News, but there are moments in Scripture where it is quite evident that Peter did not understand what he was a part of. The revelation of Jesus as the Son of God was a slow going process. The disciples did not understand immediately that He was the God-Man. In fact, it would take the Paschal Mystery for the Apostles to understand who Jesus truly was, so that explains why Peter understood slowly.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

I Am Not the Pope and Neither Are You

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The deeper I go into my theological studies, the more I am at peace with the Church. My peace does not come from the knowledge of men, but from the reality that the Holy Spirit is at the helm. It is easy to get dragged into outrage because of pockets of corruption and the sins of the people within the Church. The Pope said this, a Cardinal did that, a heterodox priest is now working in the Vatican. I think the truth is always somewhere in the middle and if people are truly interested in giving up their outrage, they will stop reading reports from the mainstream media on the Church. It is impossible for a secular world to understand the Church. They view us as a bureaucratic institution, rather than the Mystical Body of Christ that is animated by the Holy Spirit.

It seems in some of my dealings with people in social media, that Catholics are forgetting who we are and who we are not. It seems that many respond strongly to Pope Francis because they have forgotten the mission. I don’t agree with everything the Pope does, but I don’t feel the need to rant and rave about it. He is human and most of the time is not acting infallibly. I am not the Pope. I don’t know what goes on in his head most days. I am sure it is a daunting task to lead a Church of 1.2 billion Catholics as well as try to evangelize the other 5 billion people on the planet. He is probably learning as he goes just like all of the other Popes. He will make mistakes and while we are not obliged to agree with him, we are still required to treat him with the dignity and respect that is given the Vicar of Christ. We are also called to consider his non-infallible statements.

I think that many people would breathe easier if they studied more Church history. There have always been heretics, sinful, and corrupt people within the Church, even at high levels. There have been periods of great violence and Popes who were martyred or exiled for the faith. Pope Martin I comes to mind here. The world has always been upside down. I have no doubt that there are heretics and heterodox clergy in the Vatican. It’s always been so, whether Arian, Monophysite, Monothelite, Nestorian, Gnostic, etc. When we focus on this fact and allow it to overwhelm our faith then we are acting as the secular world does. We forget who is in charge of the Church, who guides the Church, and who is perfecting the Church. We also forget that even in the face of great corruption, the Church’s doctrine has been preserved. In a thorough and honest reading of Church history the only explanation that she has not been destroyed is that the Holy Spirit is keeping her on course. The Church never should have made it out of the catacombs, let alone throughout the world.

We need to accept that we are not the Pope and most of us lack the holiness, insight, experience, or understanding to lead the Church. Sure it would help if things were more articulate at times, but we can’t get bogged down by distortions and mistakes. We need to live the mission. The mission is to bring the Good News to the world. That is what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the center: Jesus Christ. I am a student theologian. I love theology and most specifically the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I understand him, as much as anyone can understand his brilliance. That being said, I get what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the core so that we can convert souls on the issues of our day. I look to him for guidance in holiness rather than great works of theology or philosophy. Although, I have read both Lumen Fidei and the Joy of the Gospel and they are insightful works in which we could learn a lot. His mission is different from his predecessors. People are not typically converted by a great argument against abortion or “gay marriage”. They are converted by a real encounter with the Risen Lord. That is where we begin. The rest will fall into place.

So what will bring us peace of mind within the Church? I don’t mean apathy or willful ignorance. I mean peace. The kind of peace that only comes from trusting the Most Holy Trinity. First, accept that we are not the Pope. Second, accept that fallen men and women are within the Church. Third, read more Church history. Fourth, pray for the Church and her leaders. Fifth, stop reading mainstream media reporting on the Church. Sixth, pray for humility. Seventh, continue on the path to holiness, Eighth, trust in the Holy Spirit. TRUST, and Ninth, most importantly, live the mission. Let’s bring Christ to the world. Our bickering hinders the mission.

While we are not required to accept every statement by the Pope, we do need to stop flying off the handle at every word he utters. Our own panic only enlivens the secular world. Yes, the world is in a bad place right now, but it’s always in a bad place. Our age has the same level of evil as previous ages, we just have more powerful weapons. Here’s a thought: Listen to Pope Francis and watch his actions. What is he trying to teach us prideful people? Pope Francis is not leading as a theologian or philosopher like our last two popes. He is leading from the simplicity of the very Early Church. It is Christ Risen that is the great mystery and hope of the Church. When we come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, when we love Him, He gives us the grace to overcome sin. He helps us with our battles and with the lies of the culture. We need Him first before we can combat the evil of our age. We have to stop putting the cart before the horse. In the end, that is what Pope Francis is teaching us. If we are angry or frustrated by that fact, then the issue is not our Pope, it is us.
**I am stunned, humbled, and amazed at the response this piece has generated. Thank you for reading. I have written a follow up, which can be found here.